Foundation takes aim at dangers of alcohol

by Marina Agapakis | 11/18/05 6:00am

Still in his first days of freshman orientation, Alex Cushman '08 couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that one of his best friends, who was in the first weeks of college at the University of Colorado, had passed away from an alcohol overdose.

On the morning of Sept. 17, 2004, 18-year-old Gordie Bailey was found dead in the library of Chi Psi fraternity at Colorado, where he had passed out after a fraternity initiation ceremony.

Bailey and 26 fellow pledges had been blindfolded and told to drink four "handles" of whiskey and six large bottles of wine in 30 minutes before returning to the fraternity house the previous weekend. When the group returned, Bailey passed out, after which the brothers wrote racial slurs and drew other demeaning images and messages on his body.

Cushman, who had been close friends with Bailey during the years they both attended Deerfield Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts, compared Bailey to a giant teddy bear.

"He was literally the nicest guy you could ever meet. He was really funny and well-liked by everyone on campus," Cushman said.

In an effort to transform the tragedy into a progressive cause, Bailey's family and close friends established a foundation soon after his death to provide today's youth with the skills necessary to evade the dangers of alcohol.

The Gordie Foundation hopes to identify dangerous practices involving alcohol and to enact policy changes through working with parents, colleges, student leaders, legislators and community leaders.

One of the main principles of the Gordie Foundation is maintaining the "circle of trust," a peer-group initiative that puts the power of education and awareness of the dangers of alcohol misuse in the hands of students.

Bailey's friends have extended this circle of trust to 31 colleges, including all eight Ivy League institutions, Middlebury, Lafayette, Bowdoin and Georgetown.

Cushman, along with several other Deerfield alumni at Dartmouth, is helping to bring the foundation to the College.

As their first action on campus, members of Dartmouth's Gordie Foundation distributed small pamphlets providing Dartmouth freshmen with information about alcohol poisoning this week. The wallet-sized "GordieCheck" card lists the six symptoms of an alcohol overdose.

"We're not trying to say don't drink," Cushman said.

Rather, Cushman hopes the foundation will help dispel the myths about drinking and disseminate a message of moderation and safety.

"There's such a fine line between when drinking is cool and when it's a very dangerous situation," Cushman said. "You've got to be educated about the fact that you're not invincible when it comes to drinking."

The foundation hopes to work in conjunction with the College to ensure that students know how to recognize and respond to a potential overdose.

Cushman, a Chi Heorot fraternity pledge, initially had a hard time taking part in the Dartmouth social scene and decided to join a fraternity after his friend's death, but the sophomore said there are significant differences between Dartmouth's Greek system and that of other colleges.

In contrast to fraternities at other schools, Dartmouth's organizations are more inclusive and serve their social purpose well, he said.

In addition, delaying rush until sophomore year allows students to know and trust more people in their organizations, unlike in Bailey's tragedy, which took place only a few weeks into his freshman year. The foundation suggests that all schools delay rush until at least the second semester of freshman year, if not until sophomore year.

Although Dartmouth has never seen a death as a result of an alcohol overdose, there have been many close calls.

"I would never want anyone at Dartmouth to have to go through anything I went through," Cushman said. "It's so senseless and unnecessary and totally preventable."